Steve Benjamins · Oct 5 2015 · Blog Home
I don’t include Wordpress in the website builder guide because Wordpress isn’t a website builder. Instead, Wordpress is a content management system (CMS).
CMS’s like Wordpress are powerful but have a learning curve. Website builders are less powerful but easier to use. The tradeoff looks something like this:
So should you use Wordpress or a website builder to build a website? There is only one answer: it depends— mostly on you.
This article will provide an overview of what I see as the major differences between website builders and Wordpress. By the end, I hope you’ll have an idea of what’s right for you!
Good website builders like Weebly are easy to use. They have visual page editors that allow you to drag-and-drop elements around your website:
Wordpress does not have a visual interface. Instead, it has a WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) editor that is abstracted out of the actual website:
Most people find drag and drop editors to be easier to use than WYSIWYG editor’s.
Beyond the page editor there are other, more nuanced things that make good website builders easy to use.
For example, sometimes in order to use a theme or a plugin in Wordpress you have to tweak code. Not everyone is confident getting their hands on code.
Also the Wordpress interface has a tendency to be a bit abstract and overwhelming. For example, by default Wordpress pages have a comments section. If you don’t want comments on your pages, you have to click Screen Options (a small link, top right). Then you have to select Discussion. From there you can turn off comments:
So you might be wondering, why is Wordpress abstract? Why don’t they just make things simple? Which leads me to my next point…
CMS’s like Wordpress are built to be flexible. In fact Wordpress can power just about anything— from a personal blog to a full-blown university website.
Oftentimes, the more flexible software is, the more abstract it gets.
And that’s why Wordpress can sometimes confusing and abstract— because it is designed to able to do a whole lot.
Website builders are generally less flexible. For example, Weebly isn’t designed to power an entire university website. Instead website builders like Weebly are designed to power conventional websites like small businesses, non-profits, restaurants, artist portfolios and personal websites.
And so an important question in considering Wordpress vs a website builder is, how much flexibility do you need? If you’re looking for a typical website, a website builder will suit you well. If you’re looking for something unconventional, you may want to look at Wordpress.
One of the strengths of Wordpress is it’s large community. This community has created thousands of themes and plugins for Wordpress. (Plugins extend the functionality of your website— they can be anything from ecommerce to contact forms to Google Analytics installers.)
The obvious upside is that Wordpress is flexible. If you have an idea for something, you can probably find a plugin that’s lets you do it.
The downside is that many themes and plugins can be inconsistent and don’t always work as expected. For example, a plugin might not work with the version of Wordress you have or a theme might require you to tweak some code.
Website builders can’t match the amount of themes and plugins Wordpress has available, but the themes and plugins in (good) website builders always work. Because website builders control all the themes and plugins in-house, they often just work without you having to tweak them.
So again, it’s about what you want and how time you’re willing to spend tweaking.
The last difference I’d like to mention is hosting. It’s a great example of the tradeoff between flexibility (Wordpress) and ease of use (website builders).
Hosting is included with every website builder. No configuration is required— you can just buy a domain name and connect it to the website builder. You never have to think about hosting.
Wordpress is quite different. Wordpress requires you to find a web host that can install Wordpress on (you’ll need to find a web host with both MySQL and PHP support). You may also need to familiarize yourself with FTP, a way to upload the Wordpress files to the host. As you can probably guess, this stuff can be intimidating for non technical users.
But again, the benefit here is flexibility. Because you upload Wordpress to a host, you can also download it and move it to another web host. You can’t download your website from a website builder. You use their hosting forever. For good website builders this is not an issue— hosting is generally cheap and great these days. But again, it’s good to know the tradeoffs.
In summary, your decision to use Wordpress or a website builder all depends on your needs.
If you’re building something that is a bit unconventional and will require customization, you may want to try Wordpress.
If you’re building a more typical website, you might find website builders are exactly what you need (and in that case, you might find my guide to website builders helpful for choosing a good one).
In the end though, don’t let decision paralysis get to you— sometimes you just need to get your hands dirty and try one!